You may have read this title and wondered what correlation the noble art of judo has to do with one of the most prestigious clubs in world football. Of course, you won’t be the first to have been left puzzled at this combination which, from afar, looks like a bizarre marriage.
This, however, wasn’t the way that Ajax Amsterdam coach Rene Wormhoudt used to see it, and, the Dutch tactician instead relied on judo to enhance the skill of his players, who revealingly, are now some of the most accomplished footballers in the world. Also former World Champion Guillaume Elmont has been very involved over years to stimulate judo into the club as players can simply take more risk in their actions and prevent breaking fingers, shoulders or even a leg with trained judo skills.
Indeed, Donny van de Beek, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Frenkie de Jong are just a few of the players who were given an education in judo whilst they learned their football trade in the Dutch capital. Wormhoudt, who admits to favoring a holistic approach, stresses one simple idea for his insistence that his players take up judo whilst discovering their way in the game: “Only focusing on football might not be the best way to become a football player.”
It was this straightforward yet groundbreaking concept that saw the powers that be at Ajax give the go-ahead to a dojo being built on the training complex in order for daily judo sessions to take place. In short, a revolution had begun, and even if you didn’t see any mention of this in the latest judo news, the plans were now in place to change football for good.
But, how, I’m sure you’re asking, did it benefit the players and help them to become a few of the most coveted footballers on the planet?
Learning how to fall
Ukemi, as we know, is the art of falling and a vital part of learning judo, just ask any legend of the sport. Ultimately, without mastering the technique of knowing how to fall, there is no pathway to moving up in belts during any grading process.
Wormhoudt, who understands the significance of Ukemi in terms of removing fear, was quick to make sure his players acquired the skill so that they would be better equipped to ride robust tackles on the pitch. In this sense, learning how to fall gave Wormhoudt’s charges the confidence to attack the goal without worrying about the consequences of being stopped in their tracks by an uncompromising defender.
The art of judo has many admirable traits, but perhaps the most enchanting is being able to use someone else’s strength as an advantage during competitions. Indeed, even if you are completely outmuscled by a bigger opponent, you can still dictate which way the encounter goes by channeling another person’s power in order to gain the upper hand. This, however, is only possible if you have mastered the skill of perfect balance. For the Ajax players under Wormhoudt’s guidance, practicing their balance every day in the dojo enabled them to run faster with the ball at their feet without losing their footing.
This is a vital technique to have when trying to get past the opposition’s defence and thanks to judo and the importance of balance, Wormhoudt’s crop now thrives in attack at their respective clubs. One player in particular who has benefited from having extra balance is Hakim Ziyech who also spent time at Ajax before moving on to Chelsea to play in the Premier League. These days, Ziyech is one of the most exciting dribblers in the league and has given Chelsea an added edge going forward. Naturally, the Blues will hope that more impetus in the third final will give them a realistic chance of winning the Premier League in 2023, which as of the 16th of June, is an outside possibility of having been priced by Betway at odds of 16/1 to dethrone Manchester City. Whether Chelsea are able to topple the Eithad Stadium outfit remains to be seen but one thing is for certain and that is Ziyech’s judo education has helped him make waves in the world’s most competitive football league.
Ziyech is not alone though as Donny van de Beek, who speaks highly of Wormhoudt’s judo methods here, is also turning heads in the Premier League thanks to this somewhat unusual training regime that has been centered around the combat sport.
Last but not least, these players have also been able to steal a march on their fellow professionals having developed incredible core strength courtesy of participation in judo. Essentially, this has helped keep injuries at bay with most players from Wormhoudt’s judo sessions able to boast of a clean bill of health throughout their careers so far. Needless to say, a look at the exercise regime of the world’s top judo athletes will undoubtedly give an added appreciation of the lengths these stars go to develop astonishing core strength.
All things considered, what is the lasting lesson here? Perhaps that judo should not be the exception but rather the rule given how beneficial this noble art has been to those making an eye-watering living at the business end of the professional game.